I’ll be the first to admit that I am still learning how to grow carrots. For many years, I didn’t even try to grow them at all. My old garden spot on my farm in Kentucky had a heavy clay soil that made carrots difficult if not impossible. But when I moved here to HA I was happy to find a lighter, silty soil that was easy to work and great for gardening in general. So, I decided it was time to try growing carrots again. It was then that I discovered that even with good soil, carrots can still be challenging.
For starters, the seeds themselves are small and somewhat difficult to handle, and they need to be covered no more than 1/2 inch deep or they won’t be able to break through. Plus, carrot seeds take a long time to germinate. With a soil temperature of 75°F (24°C), they can be up in a week. But with the cooler soil conditions usually found in spring, it can take up to three weeks for them to germinate. During that time the soil needs to stay moist, and not crust over. Carrots also prefer a fertile, loose soil that is free of rocks. Any obstruction to their downward growth will result in forked, twisted or stunted roots. And with carrots, it’s all about the roots!
So with all those specific needs and conditions, you can’t just throw the carrot seeds down and expect them to prosper! You need to have some kind of strategy. I have grown some pretty good carrots in raised beds with soil that has been amended with liberal doses of compost and some complete organic fertilizer. To plant, I make a shallow furrow in the soil, sow the seeds, and cover with some good quality, weed-free potting soil. Then to keep the soil moist, I usually cover the row with a board. I’m not sure where I originally got that idea, but a little research shows it is a popular one, and even the Cornell University Growing Guide for carrots mentions covering the furrow with a board.
This year I tried a different method for keeping the soil moist, and I think it is a real winner. I can thank fellow gardener and blogger Daphne for deciding to try covering her carrot bed with doubled up row cover material (like Agribon) to keep it moist. In the past she had used burlap, or boards like I had. I find the problem with using a board is in timing. If you leave the board on too long, the seedlings get smothered after they germinate. Take the board off too soon, and the soil dries out and you get spotty or no germination.
Using the row cover sounded like a great idea to me, since it would have a little ‘give’ to it when the seeds started sprouting. And since I had plenty of Agribon handy, I decided to give it a try. I sowed six rows of carrots about 8 inches apart in the bed, and covered two of them with boards and the rest with a doubled over piece of Agribon material. I used some of the extra boards (made from recycled wood and plastic) to hold the row cover material in place. Usually this material is suspended up off the ground to cover the plants, but in this case it is used to cover the soil surface itself.
All of the carrot seeds starting sprouting in 9 days. As soon as they did, I removed the boards from the two rows but left the row cover material in place for a few more days over the rest, until more of the seeds had emerged. I got good germination with both methods, but the row cover certainly was easier and less tricky. I will be trying this again in fall, when hot and dry conditions are the norm and keeping the soil moist and cooler is critical.
It may be a little difficult to judge in the above photo, but I got great overall germination in all of the rows of carrots. I’ll still have some serious thinning to do, as I have a tendency to sow the seeds too thickly. And I’ll still have to keep the weeds under control. But the first battle – getting the seeds up and growing, has been won. And I thought that was worth sharing. In many parts of the world, there’s still time to sow some carrot seed. If you have trouble getting a good stand of carrots, you might see if using a row cover can help you get your carrots up and growing too!